The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a new era as an unprecedented number of companies shifted to a work-from-home model. As the boundaries between the office and home continue to blur and remote work remains popular, organizations must navigate the unique challenges of managing employees’ performance in virtual settings.
That begs the question: How can they accomplish that? How can Human Resources (HR) departments and managers best support and lead their remote workers?
This article will explore the importance of performance management, the challenges of gauging the performance of remote employees, and effective performance management strategies.
What Is Performance Management?
Performance management refers to setting expectations, monitoring progress, providing feedback, and evaluating employee performance. What makes it such a vital function within companies is it helps align individual employees’ goals with the business’s overall objectives.
This can look something like a team leader organizing regular virtual team meetings to discuss project progress, address challenges, and provide recognition for exceptional performance by remote team members.
In another scenario, an HR manager leading remote workers might implement a performance improvement plan for an employee who’s been consistently underperforming. This plan can set clear expectations, provide additional support, and monitor progress to help the employee meet the required performance standards.
Why Is Performance Management Important?
Performance management helps organizations ensure their employees are doing their best. It involves setting clear expectations and goals, giving employees feedback on how they’re doing, and finding ways to support both their growth and their development.
By setting up an effective performance management system, you can improve employee productivity, boost morale, and achieve your overall business goals more effectively. It’s like having a roadmap that guides employees toward success and helps your company succeed.
Regular feedback and performance evaluations enable you to identify strengths, address weaknesses, and provide opportunities for everyone to excel. Performance management also cultivates a culture of accountability, where employees take ownership of their work.
As CEO Anand Inamdar explained in Forbes, “The basic tenets of performance management remain the same even in a remote working environment, but they need to be executed differently.”
Why Is Gauging Remote Employees’ Performance a Challenge?
Managing performance when leading workers in a remote setting presents unique challenges that differ from managing employees in traditional in-office environments.
The physical distance between the manager and remote employees can create communication issues due to a lack of direct supervision.
Factors such as remote communication barriers and varying time zones can make it difficult for you to gauge an employee’s performance. There’s also the fact that not being able to rely on non-verbal cues and face-to-face interactions can make it harder to gauge employees’ emotions or address any of their concerns promptly.
All these issues can negatively impact the trust between you and your employees.
According to the Harvard Business Review, remote performance management requires a kind of trust that managers “who cannot ‘see’ their direct reports sometimes struggle” with. Building trust and rapport with remote team members is essential but difficult, as the manager may have limited visibility into their remote employees’ daily work processes.
Remote managers must navigate these challenges while maintaining effective team collaboration and ensuring employees stay motivated and engaged. They must be skilled in leveraging technology, fostering clear and consistent communication, and creating a supportive remote work culture to overcome these difficulties and successfully lead their remote teams.
How To Support Remote Employees
To overcome these hurdles, HR and managers must adopt specific performance management strategies to gauge and support remote employees’ performance.
Supporting your remote employees requires recognizing that every work environment is different and may present its own set of challenges. For instance, a manager overseeing a 50-person virtual team would need to approach its support strategies differently than, say, someone managing a smaller team in a hybrid work setting.
The following suggestions can serve as a foundation for supporting remote employees, and they can be adjusted to suit various workplace settings. By tailoring these strategies to meet remote employees’ specific needs, you can create a supportive and inclusive work environment. This environment will foster productivity, engagement, and organizational well-being.
10 Performance Management Strategies for Success
Establish Realistic Expectations: Ensure remote employees clearly understand their responsibilities, deliverables, and performance expectations. Set realistic goals and deadlines to prevent unnecessary stress or ambiguity.
For example, before a project begins, managers should hold a virtual team meeting to communicate the project’s objectives and assign specific roles and responsibilities to each remote team member. You can use this time to collectively establish feasible checkpoints and timeframes.
Create Clear Channels for Remote Communication: Establish effective remote communication channels for employees to seek guidance, ask questions, or share feedback. This could include regular team video conferences, email threads, or dedicated project management software for streamlined communication when leading remote workers.
You can accomplish one part of this by implementing a dedicated channel on a communications platform, like a Slack channel. This would allow employees to post their queries related to ongoing projects or company policies or discuss any other work-related topics.
Host Regular Check-Ins: Using these communication channels, schedule frequent one-on-one video or phone check-ins with remote employees to discuss their progress. Make sure to address any obstacles they may be facing and provide both guidance and support. These regular interactions should demonstrate your availability and commitment to their success.
Imagine that a remote marketing team manager schedules monthly individual video calls with each team member to discuss their marketing campaign progress.
These one-on-one check-ins provide a more personalized communication channel for feedback and development and allow team members to improve their marketing strategies and enhance their overall performance.
Establish Flexible Work Hours: Acknowledge and accommodate different time zones and personal circumstances by allowing flexible work hours. This empowers remote workers to create a schedule that suits their needs while ensuring work-life balance. According to Caitlin Duffy, Gartner’s HR Research Director, a radically flexible environment can increase productivity by as much as 40%.
Establishing flexible hours could involve setting a specific period during the workday when all team members are required to be available for collaboration and communication. Outside of core hours, employees have the flexibility to choose their work schedules to accommodate personal needs or time zone differences.
Set Clear Performance Metrics: Define key performance indicators that are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Communicate these metrics to remote employees to provide them with a framework for success. Doing so will help limit performance bias and strengthen performance management.
With a remote software development team, this could include the remote manager setting clear performance metrics. These metrics might be the number of completed features or bug fixes per sprint, the average turnaround time for code review, or the percentage of project deadlines met.
Provide Regular Performance Feedback: Provide timely and constructive feedback to remote employees on their performance. Praise their achievements and suggest areas for improvement to help them grow professionally.
In a remote sales team, this could look like the sales manager conducting monthly performance reviews with individual sales representatives. While these sessions are taking place, the manager could provide detailed feedback on each representative’s key performance indicators. How many sales calls have they made? What’s their conversion rate? What’s the total revenue they’ve generated?
The sales manager could also offer specific coaching and improvement strategies to help remote sales team members refine their sales techniques, overcome challenges, and achieve their sales targets more effectively.
Utilize Technology: Embrace collaboration tools, project management software, and video conferencing platforms to facilitate seamless remote communication. These tools enable virtual face-to-face interactions, document sharing, and real-time collaboration.
For example, to ensure seamless remote communication, a graphic design and creative services team might utilize collaborative design tools, such as an online platform for real-time design work, along with a whiteboarding tool for brainstorming and visual collaboration.
For efficient project management, they might employ a task-tracking tool and a visual project organization platform. These are all things that a remote manager could facilitate.
Give Individualized Support: Take time to understand each remote employee’s unique needs and circumstances. Offer personalized support, resources, or training opportunities tailored to their professional growth and development requirements.
Provide support by conducting personalized virtual meetings with each team member to understand their specific needs, career aspirations, and challenges they might face. Based on this understanding, you could set them up with a professional development workshop to help build their career skills or overcome obstacles.
Empower Decision-Making: Trust remote employees to make informed decisions and take ownership of their work. Empower them by providing them with greater autonomy, and encourage them to bring their unique perspectives and ideas to the table for everyone to consider.
By entrusting workers with projects and ideas while also providing a clear vision and minimal guidance, you can foster a culture of ownership and innovation. This approach empowers remote employees to explore creative solutions, make data-driven decisions, and take pride in their contributions.
Offer Training and Development Opportunities: Invest in remote employee development by providing online training, webinars, and virtual workshops. Empowering remote workers with the necessary skills and resources enhances their performance and fosters an expansive mindset.
For example, managers might encourage remote employees to share their expertise through skill-sharing sessions. This could be hosting internal webinars or workshops where team members teach each other new skills. This creates a culture of continuous learning and knowledge exchange.
Ways To Strengthen Ties Between Management and Remote Workers
Building strong connections between management and remote employees is crucial for cultivating engagement, productivity, and overall success while managing remote employees.
Here are several performance management strategies that you can employ to strengthen ties and create a supportive remote work environment.
Encourage regular breaks and a healthy work-life balance. Remote work can blur the boundary between personal and professional life. BetterWorks suggests solving this problem by encouraging healthy boundaries. This means reassuring employees that it’s okay to take regular breaks, practice self-care, and establish a healthy work-life balance.
Foster a virtual community. Create a virtual space where everyone can connect, share ideas, and build relationships. This online environment could include dedicated chat channels, virtual coffee breaks, or social events meant to promote a sense of belonging and camaraderie.
Recognize and celebrate achievements. Those with strong performance management skills also acknowledge and celebrate remote employees’ accomplishments, both big and small. Publicly recognize their contributions through virtual shout-outs, awards, or appreciation emails to promote a culture of recognition and motivation.
Emphasize trust and autonomy. Trust is vital when managing remote employees. Give them the autonomy to manage their work schedules and tasks. This will empower them to take control of their performance and will boost their morale.
Encourage feedback and input. To truly excel at performance management, create a feedback-friendly environment where remote workers feel comfortable sharing their insights. Actively seek their opinions on work-related matters and implement their suggestions when appropriate.
This demonstrates that their input is valued and strengthens their sense of ownership and engagement. ChartHop suggests doing this through a combination of self-evaluations, goal check-ins, and peer feedback.
Performance management with a remote workforce requires a proactive and adaptable approach. By leveraging the tenets of performance management while adjusting them to suit remote work environments, you can foster a culture of accountability, engagement, and growth.
Investing in effective leadership and supporting remote employees allows your organization to thrive and gives it a better chance to achieve its business goals.
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